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OGDEN DUNES -- The bar association poll that delighted Porter Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Thode disappointed his opponent, Portage attorney Karen Tallian.

But Tallian considers herself in good company.

The Porter County Bar Association, she said, has a history of not supporting women in their first run for the bench. It didn't support Karen Hughes. Or Nancy Vaidik. Or Julia Jent. Or Mary Harper.

"And she's a circuit court judge now," Tallian said.

"I'm disappointed, of course, but it's not very surprising," she said. "This is a popularity contest and always has been."

At 49, after a divorce, law school and raising three children, Tallian isn't surprised by much.

But it wasn't always so.

Though a graduate of the University of Chicago, Tallian said she really didn't know much until she was taken under the wings of a group of older and wiser women in Ogden Dunes, where she has lived since 1973.

"I used to be so impressed by them. They knew everything. They knew everything that was going on, and I was this young, stay-at-home mother who didn't know much and they just sort of adopted me," she said.

Tallian said the women took her to a series of meetings where she "learned a lot."

That was the genesis of a long association with the League of Women Voters, where she served stints as both president of the Porter County League and director of the state organization.

By 1992, Tallian was running for a seat on the Town Board even as she coordinated the League's debate between Senate candidates Richard Lugar and James Jontz.

She has served as a Democrat precinct committeewoman in Ogden Dunes for 12 years.

That's while she was raising her three children. They are Aimee, 18, a freshman at the University of Missouri; Christopher, 22, who works at ESPN Zone in Chicago; and Michael, 24, a Portage firefighter.

While her opponent is most happy with the endorsement of his legal peers, Tallian waxes poetic about her support by the Portage firefighters and five union locals, including Steelworkers Local 6787 and Carpenters Local 1005.

"I have worked with the firefighters for the past eight years, both with the Merit Board and with individuals. Their endorsement rated me dependable and easy to work with," she said. "Hopefully those were the words of satisfied customers."

Tallian knows something about pleasing customers after running for 15 years, along with her ex-husband, a personal business managing rental properties.

But beginning in 1990, with three kids to raise following her divorce, Tallian knows what it's like to juggle jobs, moving between her own legal practice and managing growing practices at firms with which she has been associated. "I wanted the security of knowing I had a salary," she said.

Following her 1990 graduation from the Valparaiso University School of Law, Tallian began concentrating on municipal work, from working on a Griffith Superfund case, which resulted in the closing of a landfill, to working on police pension funds.

"In most places I've gone to," she said, "I've ended up being the 'go to' person on how to get things done most efficiently."

Why a judgeship?

Tallian said she knew that question was coming and had given it a week's careful thought.

She concluded she thought of a judgship not as a job but a mission.

"Some people are community activists by avocation," she said. "And once you're bitten by that bug, you may take time off at points in your life when you don't have time to do it, but it's always part of your personality."

Tallian said much of a judge's day is spent dealing with people who are coming to court having a bad day. "Why would you volunteer to do that? You do that because it's in your nature."

Tallian said the job differs greatly from that of attorney.

"When you're an attorney, you are hired as an advocate for one side or the other. It's your job as an attorney to sort of spin the facts to persuade somebody."

But Tallian said there comes a time when people need some direction, which some of the county's alternative programs provide.

"I've spent a lot of time trying to get kids to extricate themselves from some bit of trouble they've gotten themselves into. They don't need to go to jail," she said. "They're basically good people who need to be directed in certain ways. I've seen some programs I think work. I've seen people put in jail who didn't need to be. I've seen people who probably do need to be there, I'm not saying that, but for a lot of misdemeanor things you're catching people at a time they're making mistakes at the beginnings of their lives."

Tallian said she believes the county's family system is long overdue. "You don't have one member of the family over there and another one over here," she said "Absolutely, the concept is long overdue."

Tallian said she has personally seen the devastating effects of alcohol on families.

"You can see how families can end up in court. I know what it takes for a woman to say enough is enough. Anything that will make that better, I'm for it."

As she has everywhere, she said, she'd work to improve the efficiency of the court. Tallian said she's aware there's a backlog of cases and shortage of services which she thinks needs to be addressed by putting more time into the job.

"I'm willing to go on the record in saying I will be there," she said.

Susan Brown can be reached at sbrown@howpubs.com or (219) 462-5151, Ext. 355.

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